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The Drinking Coach Tiffanie Barriere

The Drinking Coach Tiffanie Barriere

Drinks educator and veteran bartender Tiffanie Barriere—a.k.a. The Drinking Coach—has had a big couple of years.

The Louisiana-Texas native recently collaborated on recipes in a cocktail-focused cookbook with James Beard award-winning author Toni Tipton-Martin, Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs & Juice: A Cocktail Recipe Book, and been featured in two Netflix series, including an appearance in a season-two episode of the Peabody award-winning High on the Hog and a guest-judge stint on 2022’s Drink Masters.

Last summer, Barriere took home the Tales Visionary Award from Tales of the Cocktail for her work in mentorship, equitability, inclusivity and barrier-breaking within the hospitality industry. I was fortunate enough to be with her when she received the news over the phone—she burst into tears of joy that could only be described as contagious. (I cried, too.)

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Barriere hopes that the recognition marks a turning point—both for her personally, and for the industry. Despite feeling a sense of pride for finding a way to thrive as a Black lesbian in an industry long dominated by white heterosexual men, she has often felt isolated. “Not many women are seen behind the bar, let alone Black women, in lead roles,” says Barriere.

For the past 15 years, Barriere has been working double duty to change that. Now that her personal profile has risen to new heights, she wants to use her increased visibility to inspire other marginalized people to find their space in the bartending industry—and help to cement a long-needed change.

“There is an obvious importance to diversity and inclusion in this world because there’s not enough,” she says. “[Black] stories aren’t told, and our history has been erased.”

Blazing an Unworn Trail

Barriere’s path to becoming an internationally-recognized educator was a long and winding one. She got her first hospitality job right after high school, as a server at Applebee’s. Pretty quickly it became obvious that Barriere’s larger-than-life personality would be best utilized behind the bar.

She was great at slinging drinks and having lively conversations with customers. But when she eventually took a bartending position at One Flew South, a fine-dining restaurant in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport—the busiest airport on the planet—Barriere found herself surrounded by a team of chefs who were steadfast in their dedication to innovation and creativity. It was a stark departure from the team of line cooks who had followed predetermined steps and recipes. Barriere was inspired to similarly up her game with the drinks.

“It’s a fine line… the difference between bartender and mixologist,” she says. “Working with [the culinary team] kept me on my toes, so I told myself that I wasn’t just going to make a drink, I was going to create one.”

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She dug deep into the olden days of cocktails, spending countless hours studying different spirits and their origins, various bar techniques and flavor combinations, along with regional and cultural histories including ingredients and drinks linked to Indigenous communities.

She recalls learning about the “daiquirí,” a cocktail whose name derives from the Taíno people, an Indigenous group of the Caribbean islands who were slaughtered en masse by the first wave of European colonizers starting with Christopher Columbus. Customers and fellow employees were enthralled by such histories and anecdotes, and guests began peppering her with questions about what she was working on and what spirits were trending. One day, a patron looked at her and said, “You’re coaching them every time you put a drink down—you’re like a drinking coach.”

Part of what draws Barriere to drinks history is that it’s often inherently political. Discussions often veer into topics like sustainability, the struggles and successes of family-run businesses, and Black and Indigenous culinary history. This is why she views herself as more of a storyteller than anything else.

“Not just talking about shaking a drink or the profile coming from it, but sharing where it started,” she says. “That history notch is important to me.”

Breaking Barriers for the Entire Industry

Though Barriere’s face can now be spotted on T.V. and her name headlining events, it took years of study and work to overcome her self-described “imposter syndrome.” To this day, many people see her career as a “hobby” or an “in-between job,” she says. Despite the recent cocktail revival, “there’s a lack of respect and a lack of seriousness.”

Barriere confesses these judgments have affected her more than she’d like to admit. In fact, it’s in part what led her to quit her bartending gig at One Flew South. Afterward, she took a job as a brand ambassador for a year, figuring that a more traditional nine-to-five role would offer stability and authority. Yet, that “more respectable” job didn’t even pay enough to cover all of her bills.

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She credits her community for encouraging her to keep studying beverage history. These friends, most of whom are bartenders, provided a safe space to share learnings and receive emotional support. They helped her remain grounded in her passion for cocktails.

“They are my mentors because we love on each other and we share vulnerable moments,” shares Barriere. “Also, anyone Black in the liquor industry has been a support to me. In the beginning, there were only a few of us.”

Barriere in particular credits Elayne Duff, who for roughly a decade was a master mixologist for Diageo. Barriere closely watched the way that Duff cultivated her career, which opened Barriere’s eyes to what was possible for women in bartending. “I saw a major corporation hire a resident bartender who worked with their entire portfolio and I was like, ‘That’s my dream job,’” recalls Barriere. Fast forward a few years, Duff and Barriere now regularly work together as peers at events such as the international trade fair Bar Convent Berlin, in 2021, and as judges for last year’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirits Competition.

Turn of The Tide

Barriere found another guiding light in esteemed culinary journalist Toni Tipton-Martin. They first met at the Southern Foodway Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi, and Barriere was immediately struck by Tipton-Martin’s class, eloquence and deep knowledge of Southern culinary traditions.

The experience was life-changing. Although the entire conference was full of like-minded Southerners—all fascinated with Southern food history and its global impact—Barriere felt anxious and somewhat overwhelmed. Speaking with Tipton-Martin, however, that unease dissipated.

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“When I met her, I felt safe from that point on,” says Barriere. “I wanted to have the weird-ish conversations. I wanted to talk to white people about Black people things, and I wanted to share my history.”

These days, Barriere spends her time living on the road, judging international cocktail competitions and conducting workshops and lectures around the world. This year, for the first time, she will be leading a seminar and tasting at the internationally renowned Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. She says it feels like a career milestone, since last year’s Classic was the first time Barriere graced a big-event mainstage, which she did alongside several James Beard award-winning chefs.

In spite of her recent success, however, Barriere isn’t resting on her laurels. Her biggest challenge today is finding the time to rest.

“I don’t ever feel like I’m on the other side of the mountain,” she says. “Just because I broke through one door, there’s still ten others to get through. There’s so much work to be done in the bar world.”

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